Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump Wants To Build Walls

During his first week in the Oval Office, President Trump got to work right away on fulfilling his biggest campaign promise: The Border Wall. He signed an executive order last week calling for the building of a wall along the Mexican border as well as the expansion of border patrol and deportation agents. He then indicated that Mexico would somehow be made to foot the bill of building the wall, a claim that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto flat out denied. This led to the cancellation of a summit meeting between our two countries and a declaration from Trump that a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico would be explored in order to pay for the wall.

Later in the week, Trump signed an executive order keeping all refugees from entering the country for 120 days and keeping immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia) out for three months. The order also blocked nationals from those nations who had valid green cards and visas from entering the country. Many nationals who were in transit when the order was signed found that they were denied entry when they landed and were either detained or sent back to where they had flown in from. Protests erupted at major airports around the country and foreign leaders were quick to denounce the ban. Trump supporters, however, see the ban a necessary step to safeguard our country against people from nations known as hotspots of terrorism while the vetting process for allowing people in from those countries is tweaked. The concept of a border wall and a temporary travel ban sound like good ideas, right? After all, you can't be too careful. The safety of our country is at risk, isn't it? Democrats should be on board since it was Obama who identified those seven nations as hotspots of terror.

First off, if you support the travel ban, you should do so because you believe in the plan itself. Pointing to past administrations that have done vaguely similar things and crying "Whatabout..." is a cowardly deflection of the issue and makes you look like you don't have any faith in your own beliefs. It's like when you catch one of your kids misbehaving and he points to his older brother saying "Well, he did it first, you just didn't catch him!". Pointing to someone else's bad behavior doesn't excuse your own.

Second, I understand that a lot of people view politics like they view team sports. They throw their support behind their party in such a way that they've become little more than game day fans. Yet, I cannot stress enough the need for people to look beyond their party lines and to think critically about the best ways to handle our national security. We also have to consider the human costs of these programs and whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs. Don't take the Republicans at their word and don't take Democrats at their word about it either. Go out there and educate yourself. Read articles by people are are experts on the subjects you're interested in.

That being said, my own opinion on this whole thing is that Trump is acting on fear. We, as a nation, are starting to fear people who are different from us simply because they are different. Trump himself declared via his campaign site in 2015 that he supported "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States", so you'll have to excuse me if I am skeptical when Trump says that his latest move isn't "a Muslim ban". I hear people saying all the time that if immigrants are going to come here, then they need to integrate into our culture and learn the language. Sentiments like this make me think of my great-great grandfather. He came to this country from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) after the failure of the tripartite agreement Austria-Hungry brought Bohemia under Austrian rule and made ethnic Czechs into second-class citizens. He settled briefly in Minnesota and then moved on to Chicago. By today's standards, he wasn't the type of immigrant most people would want living in this country. He never learned English beyond a few words and phrases. He didn't need to. He lived in a neighborhood where everyone spoke Czech. He attended a church that held services in Czech. He even subscribed to a Czech newspaper. What's worse, he was of a different religion than most of the rest of the country. He was a Catholic during an era when a number of groups were trying to limit Catholic immigration into the United States. He had at least 14 children (10 of whom survived to adulthood) all tucked into a tiny apartment and provided for them by doing odd jobs as a carpenter and sending his kids out to do the same. They were a poor family. So dirt poor that, when one of the children died due to a tragic, horrible accident, they couldn't afford to buy a burial plot for him. They had to rent it and live with the fact that someone would eventually be buried over him and that there would be no marker for his final resting place. My great-great grandfather may not have been what the mainstream saw as the ideal immigrant, but he planted himself firmly in the country and fought for his meager share of the American dream. From the roots he put down, generations of law-abiding, job holding American citizens sprung forth. Yet, had today's prejudicial attitudes towards refugees been applied to my great-great grandfather, I wouldn't be here writing this blog.

Meanwhile, one of my Irish ancestors who brought his family to this country embodied the sort of immigrant that we'd see as ideal in today's society. He was a Protestant, the predominant sect of Christianity in the U.S. at the time. He spoke English and even became a naturalized citizen. He was successful businessman who pitched in around his community in order to help out those less fortunate than him. On the surface, he was the ideal immigrant, yet he was involved in organized crime, grand larceny, jury tampering, bail jumping and murder. My point in telling these stories is to highlight the fact that, ultimately, we don't know what's in the heart of anyone who chooses to come to this country. We're quick to trust what's familiar, but we're even quicker to condemn what's different. Supposedly, Muslim nations want to attack us because they hate our freedom. If we keep making restrictions like this, then aren't we making our country less free and, thus, playing into the hands of the very people who want to tear us down?

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